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Research Question

  1. What challenges do LEAs face related to school physical security?

A core responsibility of the local education agencies (LEAs) that operate kindergarten-through–12th grade (K–12) schools across the United States is creating safe and secure environments that support effective teaching and learning. To help them meet this obligation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS's) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) asked the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center to review the policy landscape and relevant literature to provide an overview of the challenges and facilitators related to school physical security. The authors synthesized the literature on physical security planning from school-specific sources and related disciplines to discuss the policy and other challenges that LEAs face in developing and implementing protection and mitigation measures for K–12 school campuses. The authors found that LEAs face pressure from families and community members and are also often constrained by limited resources (e.g., equipment, personnel), as well as a lack of expertise around physical security best practices. Few K–12–specific risk assessments exist to guide LEAs on how to choose and integrate various physical security measures, and information on the effectiveness of various solution is sparse, at best. In this report, the authors conclude with implications for policymakers and LEAs.

Key Findings

Relevant federal, state, and local policies on school safety are a set of disconnected statutes, regulations, and resources

  • Information about how to implement various policies is distributed across a variety of documents hosted across many agencies, creating a challenge for LEA leaders who might not be experts in physical security in locating relevant policy information and understanding and implementing various policies.

Limited funding and LEA staff capacity and expertise are the most-common challenges in security planning

  • Some state policies require, without providing adequate implementation funding, that LEAs adopt specific measures, and many LEAs lack the resources and expertise to prepare competitive applications.
  • The lack of conclusive research evidence about the effectiveness of various security measures also inhibits LEAs' ability to choose the most-appropriate, cost-effective measures from the myriad options available.
  • Physical constraints, such as the built environment, physical locations for new construction, and the structure and layout of existing buildings, can also pose significant challenges in physical security planning.


  • Recommendations for policymakers are to do the following: Be mindful of unfunded mandates; develop and maintain comprehensive school security resources for LEAs; provide publicly available guidance, tools, and resources to help LEAs use local data to identify the security measures best suited to their desired security outcomes, needs, and contexts; align guidance, tools, and resources for school physical security planning with other required emergency plans; and consider what expertise LEAs require for physical security planning.
  • Recommendations for LEAs are to do the following: Implement no- or low-cost measures first; incorporate local data in analysis and planning; ease the burden on school leaders of identifying physical security outcomes and needs and selecting security measures; and provide resources to reduce or offset cost.

This research was sponsored by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and conducted within the Strategy, Policy and Operations Program of the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.